When Vendasta Chief Customer Officer, George Leith speaks, marketing agencies are apt to listen closely.
George is a combination of educator and entertainer with a heap of captivating personality added. He’s a digital marketing evangelist who, prior to the restrictions of COVID, traveled the world to show sales professionals how to help local businesses. George knows his stuff and understands online like few others. And, among those who’ve spoken to or heard him speak, George is renowned for cutting to the chase.
“Arguing with an online reviewer is like fighting with a pig,” he says in an introduction video posted on his homepage. “You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”
He says the following, regarding the importance of digital business:
“Your virtual doorway is more important than the actual doorway of your business. It doesn’t mean you can stop paying attention to the actual doorway. It just means that you have to pay attention to what’s online because that’s where consumers are going to make their buying decisions.”
George recently discussed what he believes are the strongest agencies in the market, the most common missteps, and the best ways to ensure agencies survive today and thrive in the future.
Here’s what he had to say.
George’s Top 10 tips:
1. Build and keep a superstar team
“Your most precious resource is the people in your organization,” says George. “The challenge is to build a high-performing team. Beyond hiring smart people with passion and a willingness to work hard and be committed, look for those who share your vision as CEO and business leader. And take care of them.”
“Amp up the check metrics that you have in place to ensure your staff is happy, feeling challenged, getting the feedback that they need to succeed, and the accolades they deserve.”
2. Take care of your clients
Don't assume that your client will stay with you forever just because they have been your client for years. “Everybody's trying to eat your lunch. You really need to stay on top of caring for and serving that customer,” Leith says.
“It's easy to get comfortable and complacent, thinking that everything's going great. But keep looking under the hood, keep checking for problems. If you find a little crack in the armor, dig into it - what you’ll find may be extremely interesting and insightful.”
“Proactively reach out to your customers,” he says. “Ask those hard questions and really find out if you’re doing a good job.”
3. Never compromise on cutting-edge tools, services, and customer experiences
Customers expect you to be 100 percent digitally enabled and on the cutting edge - otherwise it won’t work out, according to Leith. That's especially true for traditional agencies that came from an advertising background. “They need to be fully staffed, and their technology stacks need to be fully built out. Their client expects that level of digital acumen,” he says “And, if it's not there, you’ll lose deals to someone else.”
A strong digital platform featuring rich task management and monitoring capability plus the ability to create outstanding digital customer experiences are essential.
Leith says the following: “If you're coming to a customer discussion with a folder and a printed presentation, and you don't have dashboards, a place to log in, an online footprint that works, your listings aren't very good, and you don't have a good online reputation, how the heck do you expect to convince the client that you're an expert in this?”
4. Find a mentor
Find some organization, or someone you can bounce ideas off that has been there, done that, and has something that you can model, Leith advises.
“There are different ways that you can learn things,” he says. “You can do trial and error, but it is expensive, frustrating, and takes a long time. But if you can find something that's working, emulate that and learn from top-performing organizations - that's punching above your weight. Just look a little higher up there and aspire to be like that. Then learn from them.”
5. Extreme ownership over perfection
“I think customers are looking for an organization that may not always be right and may not always deliver at a hundred percent,” Leith says. “But if there ever is a problem, they want to work with an agency that won’t run or hide from it, or spin it. They want to work with an agency that says, ‘There was a problem there. We did not meet your expectations. Let's work together to figure out a way to move forward.’
“I think that level of authenticity and cutting to the chase of saying, ‘Yes, we did not perform properly,’ is really what customers are looking for today.”
6. Give fence-sitters a gentle nudge
“Agencies and people that work with small businesses and care about local economies need to help and have a solution that could solve what currently challenges them, Leith says.
“Revenues are down, transactions are down, complete groups of customers are gone because they've now changed their buying habits and are looking to someone that is digitally enabled,” he explains.
“I'm a real big believer in that gentle nudge or ‘challenger sales’ approach, rather than waiting for clients to see the light of day. You can challenge a customer without saying, ‘You’ve got to do this or you're going to die.’ Instead, it’s saying, ‘If you do this, here are the benefits that you will find.’ Then back that up with real data.”
7. Be adaptable, be agile
Leith warns that agencies shouldn’t be afraid to stop doing things previously done and adapt to the new normal of today’s business environment. He adds that agencies most likely to succeed are those able to change and adapt at a blistering pace.
“The number one mistake I see agencies making today is that they expect what they did three years ago, or even a year ago, will continue to work moving forward in the next two years,” Leith says.
Quick reaction to changing business dynamics is essential. Leith cited the example of Google’s recent release of Google Guarantee.
“You need to be on top of that today, not eight, 10 months from now,” he says. “Being on that cutting edge is one of the key things that agencies need to embrace. You need to be seen as that innovative organization on the cutting edge. It doesn't mean you need to totally adopt every new trend. But you should be experimenting and show that you're not afraid to be agile and look at new opportunities.”
8. Practice what you preach
Leith recalls that 20 years ago, the ad agencies everyone admired were the ones that painted an amazing picture for their brand. The same thing holds true today, he says.
“When I look at a digital marketing organization, I consider: What does their own marketing look like? Is their LinkedIn profile complete and built out? Are they using e-mail marketing to send out newsletters? If they're not deploying those tactics - which are really now just table stakes for digital marketing - then I just don't think their customer base will trust that they can deliver it for them.”
9. Back your pitch with data
Today’s most successful agencies are accountable, seen as innovative, and data-driven.
“What we've been working on in coaching motions with agencies over the past couple of months is a challenger sales model that disputes the status quo,” Leith says. “To do that you have to present data regarding the economic downturn a client’s business may have experienced because it wasn't digitally enabled. Then show what is possible if they do become a digitally enabled business.
“So it's not about just protecting the business that you had pre-COVID,” Leith adds. “It might be about capturing new business that's out there because other businesses didn't make the change. So that's why I really believe in that challenger sale. When you combine it with data and bring insights, it really will resonate with that small business.”
10. Don’t get lost online
If you're a digital marketing agency that’s been calling on customers over the years, you may have been preaching some sort of a gospel of needing to be found online, being digitally enabled, and providing a digital customer experience. Today’s small businesses must be doing all of that or face extinction, Leith says.
“It’s deploying that concept of, ‘Can I find you with the right information online? When I look to social media channels, do I see that you're a thing as an organization?’” he says.
“And then can that small business conduct business online - whether it's booking an appointment with a hair stylist or barber, or providing curbside pickup of the new Trek bicycle, or creating an online shopping experience, where I can pick out an item, and have it delivered. These activities are vitally important. Agencies need to have it all.”